Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning is broadly defined as the ability to apply knowledge or procedures learned in one context to new contexts. Learning occurs more quickly and the learner develops a deeper understanding of the task if he or she brings some knowledge or skills from previous learning. A positive transfer of learning occurs when the learner practices under a variety of conditions, underscoring again the value of SBT.

A distinction is commonly made between near and far transfer. Near transfer consists of transfer from initial learning that is situated in a given setting to ones that are closely related. Far transfer refers both to the ability to use what was learned in one setting to a different one as well as the ability to solve novel problems that share a common structure with the knowledge initially acquired. There is a third way to talk about transfer called generativity. In this context it means learners have the ability on their own to come up with novel solutions.

 

During a learning experience, things learned previously usually aid the student, but sometimes previous learning interferes with the current learning task. Consider the learning of two skills. If the learning of skill A helps to learn skill B, positive transfer occurs. If learning skill A hinders the learning of skill B, negative transfer occurs. For example, the practice of slow flight (skill A) helps Beverly learn short-field landings (skill B). However, practice in making a landing approach in an airplane (skill A) may hinder learning to make an approach in a helicopter (skill B). It should be noted that the learning of skill B might affect the retention or proficiency of skill A, either positively or negatively. While these processes may help substantiate the interference theory of forgetting, they are still concerned with the transfer of learning.

It is clear that some degree of transfer is involved in all learning. This is true because, except for certain inherent responses, all new learning is based upon previously learned experience. People interpret new things in terms of what they already know.

Many aspects of teaching profit by this type of transfer, perhaps explaining why students of apparently equal ability have differing success in certain areas. Negative transfer may hinder the learning of some; positive transfer may help others. This points to a need to know a student’s past experience and what has already been learned. In lesson and syllabus development, instructors can plan for transfer by organizing course materials and individual lesson materials in a meaningful sequence. Each phase should help the student learn what is to follow.

The cause of transfer and exactly how it occurs is difficult to determine, but no one disputes the fact that transfer occurs. For the instructor, the significance of transference lies in the fact that the students can be helped to achieve it. The following suggestions are representative of what educational psychologists believe should be done:

  • Plan for transfer as a primary objective. As in all areas of teaching, the chance for success is increased if the instructor deliberately plans to achieve it.
  • Ensure that the students understand that what is learned can be applied to other situations. Prepare them to seek other applications.
  • Maintain high-order learning standards. Overlearning may be appropriate. The more thoroughly the students understand the material, the more likely they are to see its relationship to new situations. Avoid unnecessary rote learning, since it does not foster transfer.
  • Provide meaningful learning experiences that build student confidence in their ability to transfer learning. This suggests activities that challenge them to exercise their imagination and ingenuity in applying their knowledge and skills.
  • Use instructional material that helps form valid concepts and generalizations. Use materials that make relationships clear.
 

Habit Formation

The formation of correct habit patterns from the beginning of any learning process is essential to further learning and for correct performance after the completion of training. Remember, primacy is one of the fundamental principles of learning. Therefore, it is the instructor’s responsibility to insist on correct techniques and procedures from the outset of training to provide proper habit patterns. It is much easier to foster proper habits from the beginning of training than to correct faulty ones later.

Due to the high level of knowledge and skill required in aviation for both pilots and maintenance technicians, training has traditionally followed a building block concept. This means new learning and habit patterns are based on a solid foundation of experience and/or old learning. Everything from intricate cognitive processes to simple motor skills depends on what the student already knows and how that knowledge can be applied in the present. As knowledge and skill increase, there is an expanding base upon which to build for the future.

How Understanding Affects Memory

The ability to remember is greatly affected by the level of understanding of what has been learned. Many studies have demonstrated a depth-of-processing effect on memory: the more deeply humans think about what they have learned, the more likely they are able to retrieve that knowledge later. Depth-of-processing is the natural result of the kinds of learning activities described earlier: beginning with memorized information and then elaborating upon it, making associations, constructing explanations, all in pursuit of furthering understanding.

The effects of depth of processing on memory are quite powerful and result from even the simplest attempts to elaborate on what has been learned. One study asked participants to memorize sentences such as “The pilot arrived late.” Half of the participants simply memorized the sentences as they were. The other participants were asked to develop an elaboration for the sentence such as “because of the bad weather.”

When put to a test, participants who created elaborations were significantly better able to recall the sentences. When memories for sentences had decayed, it seems that remembered words from the elaborations helped people recall them.

 

Remembering During Training

Remembering what is learned on a day-to-day basis is the first challenge students must meet. As students are presented with new knowledge each day, they must work to maintain that new knowledge plus all the knowledge they learned on previous days. Indeed, remembering during training is a challenge that increases in magnitude each day.

The first threat to newly acquired knowledge is a lack of frequent usage in the past. To address this threat, the student must engage in regular practice of what they have learned. Students often put off daily studying in favor of “cramming” the night before an evaluation. These students should be made aware that shorter and regularly spaced study sessions produce memory results that far exceed those obtained from cramming.

A second threat to newly acquired knowledge is a lack of understanding that might serve to assist the student in recalling it. It has been demonstrated that study practices that combine repetition of knowledge along with efforts to increase one’s understanding of the knowledge lead to best results. The idea of reading with “study questions” in mind is one that has received much attention by memory researchers.

Experiments have found that not only does answering study questions lead to better memory, but so does the very act of creating study questions. In one experiment in which students read a text and were then tested on their comprehension, students who wrote their own study questions and then discarded them unanswered exhibited better recall than students who simply read the text.

Remembering After Training

Students must leave the training environment with a sound understanding that a certificate is in no sense a guarantee that they will remember anything that they have learned. It seems that no one is exempt from the process of forgetting. Continued practice of their knowledge and skill is the only means of retaining what they learned, and practice is important after they become certificated pilots and mechanics as it is during their training.

One study of pilots’ retention of aeronautical knowledge showed that students’ retention of some topics was superior to that of their own instructors. It seems that the students’ active use and recent rehearsal of these knowledge topics in preparation for knowledge and practical tests outweighed the effects of the more frequent (but less recent) usage on the part of the instructors. This finding nicely demonstrates that an instructor’s knowledge is just as vulnerable to forgetting when it has not been recently practiced.

In the same study, the ability of certificated pilots to remember details about regulations was related to the number of months since each pilot’s last flight review. This suggests that pilots may take steps to sharpen their knowledge before a flight review and allow it to decay between reviews. Even skills that become automatic during training may not remain automatic after a period of disuse.

 

Sources of Knowledge

Aviation students obtain knowledge from a variety of sources while training to be pilots or mechanics. The aviation instructor is the student’s primary source of knowledge, but an instructor also recommends other sources of knowledge. These include books, photographs, videos, diagrams and charts, and other instructional materials. These sources are important for the student because they allow information to be archived and easily transferred from one person to another. They also allow the reader to self-pace the acquisition of information and permit the reader to pause, think, formulate, and reformulate his or her understanding.

The instructor also encourages the student to gain experience in the real world of aviation. These experiences enhance the student’s incidental learning: observation of other pilots or mechanics, thinking about what has been learned, formulation of schemas, and ability to make correlations about what has been learned. Interactive computer-based instruction programs, another excellent source of knowledge, often go hand-in-hand with the flight training syllabus, assuring academics are delivered just-in-time to complement lessons.

Summary of Instructor Actions

To help students remember what they have learned, the instructor should:

  • Discuss the difference between short-term memory and long-term memory.
  • Explain the effect of frequent and recent usage of knowledge on remembering and forgetting.
  • Explain the effect of depth of understanding on remembering and forgetting.
  • Encourage student use of mnemonic devices while studying.
  • Explain the benefits of studying at regularly spaced intervals, and the disadvantages of “cramming.”